Pelvic Health: Patient/Client Handout
We have all heard the words “pelvic floor” before, but what does it really mean? And why is it so important in our overall health?
The pelvic floor muscles are made up of a group of muscles on both sides of the lower opening of your pelvis which together surround it and allow for control and help support our organs, bladder, uterus, vagina, urethra and rectum. It has small openings through itcalled sphincters which allow for the urethera (from the baldder), rectum (or anus, from the bowel) and vagina (from the uterus in females) to pass through.
While the pelvic floor is certainly important when we are voiding ourselves or when women are pregnant, it is also closely connected to our breathing as well. Every time we inhale and the diaphragm in our ribcage descends, the pelvic floor should lower as well. When we exhale, it should contract inward and upward as a unit to help push the abdominal contents into the diaphragm to help push the air out. It is an ongoing balance of controlled pushing and pulling from the top and the bottom and is also why the pelvic floor is often called the pelvic diaphragm.
Much like any other muscle in the body, it can get too tight and not relax, or too loose with poor ability to contract. This can make us lose control our bowel movements with either with constipation (when its tight) or with diarrhea (when its long and weak). It can also develop imbalances between the two sides--and within each side--and the result can be on our ability to have proper function of our bowel movements and even produce pain and limitations in function. It is also possible that how we position our pelvis and thorax can affect how we use our thoracic and pelvic diaphragms to contract in a balanced and timely manner. The picture above to the right shows how if the pelvis and spine are either tipped forward or back how this could easily affect how those the pelvic muscles work. We want them to stay right underneath us to create a hammock for support throughout our day.
Our digestive system works hand-in-hand with the pelvic floor as well. Ongoing gastrointestinal (GI) problems can make someone lose the control of the pelvic floor muscles and vice versa—poor control of the pelvic diaphragm can cause GI issues. When the evaluation and tests from your physician are not able to diagnose a cause of gastrointestinal problems, then it is possible that some of the issue can be due to a poor pelvic floor control. This is often called a functional gastrointestinal problem.
So what can we do about it? There are a few different things which you can do which have been shown can make a big difference.
Follow the advice of your doctor, nurse and dietitian on any medications you should be taking, healthy eating choices, and any other suggestions they make.
Performing breathing exercises to help get both diaphragms to work together can be very helpful in controlling the tightness and discomfort.
Lie on your back with your knees bent or sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground in a relaxed position (not up too straight). Inhale through your nose slowly for a count of about 3, trying to feel like your ribcage expand in all directions. Then exhale slowly like your sighing for a count of about 8.
Keep the pelvic floor “relaxed” when inhaling and slowly, gently contract those muscles when exhaling.
Then re-inhale through your nose—slower than you want to—trying not to inhale into your upper chest or tighten your neck. Perform for 8-10 breaths periodically during the day.
Going to the bathroom:
Elevate your feet on a stool when going to the bathroom and think about where to put pressure through your arms when going to the bathroom. The picture to the right shows what this would look like. Since its takes muscles to go to the bathroom, learning how to use them better can help.
Use a Squatty Potty which aids in positioning of the pelvis, hips and internal organs for optimal bowel movement.
Do not strain by trying to push harder. This will only tighten things up more and make it more uncomfortable.
Exhale more fully when trying to “push” as this helps “push” it out.
Adequate amount of restful sleep: At least 7 hours a night!
Relaxation, meditation, stress reducing techniques can be very beneficial as well.
Quiet time for mindfulness during the day relieves, relaxes and restores the brain and the body to better manage the rest of the day